Kennedy Choosing Cultural ‘Enlightenment’ Over Conscience

No matter what else you may think about US Senator John Neely Kennedy, he is far from stupid. He earned law degrees from UVA and Oxford, after having graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt with degrees in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics.

In his less than two years in Washington, he’s become the darling of the soundbyte-seeking U.S. Capitol press corps – always ready with a cornpone comment: “Our country was founded by geniuses, but it’s being run by idiots”; “We’ve got some hogs who have all four feet and their snouts in the trough”; “President Trump is a hard dog to keep on the porch.”

Adolf Hitler described this modus operandi in Mein Kampf: “All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed.”

It’s the classic “common man” or “plain folks” propaganda technique – relatively harmless in and of itself — and Kennedy is very, very good at it.

But now Kennedy – who has said he’ll announce his decision on whether to enter the 2019 Louisiana governor’s race by December 1 – is stepping up his propaganda game, trying another method. While it’s a tactic that has, in the past, been highly effective, the results of its use have also – historically – been universally condemned.

It’s an appeal to fear, with some flag-waving, appeal to prejudice, and exaggeration thrown in. It’s also known as “Reductio ad Hitlerum.

Here’s what Kennedy wrote in a letter to the editor of The Advocate, published this week.

A recent column by Lanny Keller lamented a drop in the number of international students studying in the U.S. under the Trump administration. I’d like to offer another perspective on this issue.

Earlier this year, FBI director Christopher Wray warned against naivete when it comes to Chinese students on American college campuses. More specifically, Wray said: ‘(China is) exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it.’

No other country sends more students to the U.S. than China. Approximately 350,000 Chinese students further their education in the U.S. every year. We know that some of them spy and steal. They’re not stealing the answers to a history quiz or sneaking into Coach O’s office to look at his playbook. They’re stealing our technology, whether it’s agricultural advancements or automobile innovations.

They want our research, our ideas and the results of all those hours spent working in university laboratories. More simply put, they want our intellectual property.

Three of my colleagues and I raised this issue when we met with Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republican of China, a few weeks ago. We had a frank discussion in which we made it clear that China needs to stop cheating if it wants to be a true trade partner.

I’m not suggesting that every Chinese student is stealing from us. Those who play by the rules are welcome; Americans should be happy to have them. I also believe, however, that the number of Chinese students who don’t play by the rules, and who are encouraged to steal our intellectual property by the Communist Party of China, would surprise you.

China is pursuing a “Made in China 2025” policy to gain an edge against the rest of the world in a number of high-tech industries. Stealing U.S. intellectual property would greatly help China achieve this initiative.

The problem is that China isn’t just in a race to catch up with the U.S. and other global leaders. They want to surpass us, and they’re not adverse to cheating.

Earlier this year, a Chinese citizen who came to the United States on a student visa was arrested in Chicago for spying on defense contractors. October brought the arrest of a Chinese intelligence officer who worked for years to wrestle trade secrets away from aerospace experts in the U.S.

America is a country known for innovation and entrepreneurship. College campuses stimulate our creativity and ambition. University research gave us rocket fuel, GPS, oil refining, seat belts and pacemakers.

Despite the brainpower on college campuses, naivete remains a concern. If we’re not careful, we’ll export our ‘Made in America’ brand to China.”

You read that right. Our illustrious junior senator is trotting out the old trope of the “Yellow Peril”, a.k.a., the “Yellow Menace” – defined as “a racist-color metaphor that is integral to the xenophobic theory of colonialism: that the peoples of East Asia are a danger to the Western world.”

Make no doubt about it, it IS racism, and it’s not the first time this particular demonization has been used here in the United States against Chinese people legally allowed to be here. As Diana Preston (a historian and BBC broadcaster, who was also trained at Oxford) defines it so succinctly in her book, The Boxer Rebellion, “The racialist politician calls for white unity against the non-white Other who threatens from Asia.”

When the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 normalized US-China trade relations, and authorized Chinese immigration to the United States, it prompted an influx of Chinese workers, many of which came to work toward completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. They were the ones tasked with placing the bottles of nitroglycerin used to clear the rocky mountainous paths for the rails.

Political cartoon from the 1870s

Yet many working class white people of the day saw these people of different skin-tone, appearance, culture, and language as having “stolen” their job opportunities. The clamor against “the filthy, yellow hordes” became so fierce that there were mass lynchings in Los Angeles, riots and arson that destroyed Chinese enclaves in Denver, Seattle, Wyoming, and Oregon.

Even Horace Greeley (of “Go West, young man!” fame), founder and publisher of the New York Tribune, penned an editorial calling for cessation of Chinese immigration, saying “The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.”

All of this savage Sinophobia led to passage of the Page Act of 1875, the first restrictive immigration law in US history. It prohibited the immigration of Chinese women and was followed in 1882 by the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting immigration of all Chinese laborers. That law remained in effect until 1943.

Book by M.P. Shiel, originally published 1899.  Still being reprinted: most recently, as paperback in Aug. 2017

At that point, the United States was battling another “Yellow Peril”: Japan. And this country was rounding up American citizens of Japanese descent (along with those of Korean and Taiwanese descent), confiscating their property, and sending them to internment camps (including Camp Livingston in central Louisiana).

The Los Angeles Times, in an op-ed published April 22, 1943, stated, “As a race, the Japanese have made for themselves a record for conscienceless treachery unsurpassed in history. Whatever small theoretical advantages there might be in releasing those under restraint in this country would be enormously outweighed by the risks involved.”

Sound familiar?

Yet under Republican President Ronald Reagan, through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, this nation formally apologized to Japanese Americans, and made restitution for the internments, as being “unjust and motivated by racism and xenophobic ideas rather than factual military necessity.”

Under Republican President George H.W. Bush, another apology was issued through the Civil Liberties Act of 1992. Bush sajd, “No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

So why is Republican U.S. Senator John Kennedy dredging up the dirty device of the “Yellow Menace” now?

His party’s President, Donald Trump, has been engaged in a trade war with China for most of this year. Trump imposes tariffs on Chinese goods; China retaliates and imposes tariffs on U.S. products, including soybeans, chemicals, oil, and liquified natural gas. The products targeted account for 80.8% of Louisiana’s $7.9-billion in exports to that country.

At least 15% of Louisiana’s $5.6-billion soybean crop was plowed under this year, with most of the rest sitting in storage, accumulating fees for the farmers who grew the beans, but cannot now sell them.

LNG shipments from Louisiana to China are down 90.6% from a year ago, according to an Oct. 30, 2018 article in Forbes.

“My state is in trouble,” Kennedy told FoxNews last evening, when asked about his possible run for governor.

But don’t blame Trump or his tariffs for those economic woes – blame China? Cultivate distrust by accusing Chinese students attending our colleges and universities of “cheating, stealing and spying.” They are the “Yellow Menace.”

Nevermind that Trump’s far-right senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, is behind this. The Financial Times reported in early October that Miller, the architect of Trump’s travel ban against Muslims – as well as author of the policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents – has been championing the idea of ending all Chinese student visas.

On March 13, 1933, the Third Reich established the “Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment” (which also controlled the press, radio, theatre and film) with goals of establishing enemies in the public mind: Jews, Romani (gypsies), homosexuals, Bolsheviks (communists), along with cultural trends including “deviant art”. Joseph Goebbels was appointed as the agency’s Minister.

It appears Stephen Miller is the Trump Administration’s modern-day Goebbels. Goebbels, too, spoke against the “Asiatic hordes”.

John Kennedy, having majored in philosophy, is undoubtedly familiar with the George Santayana quote from Reason in Common Sense: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Yet he steadfastly toes the party line.

When asked about the recent gassing of women and children at the US-Mexican border, he says, “I understand that our Border Patrol agents were attacked. And when our agents are attacked, they should be allowed to respond.”

He rallies racism by writing about the hordes of Chinese students stealing and spying on our college campuses.

It is all eerily and frighteningly repetitious.

John Kennedy, flattery-operated by all the attention he receives from the Washington media, has become complicit in disseminating the administration’s propaganda. Rather than applying his well-trained intellect to dispassionate reflection on the similarities between the current course and the historical path it replicates, he is reflecting now on his ambition to become governor. Maybe he doesn’t realize that, along the way, he seems to have swallowed his conscience.

“Drinking weedkiller” might have been preferable.

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Sue Lincoln
Sue Lincoln is a veteran and widely-respected reporter who has been covering Louisiana politics for nearly three decades. Originally from Long Beach, California, Sue’s career in journalism began on the radio in Los Angeles. After moving to Louisiana, Sue earned her bachelor’s degree. For ten years, from 2000-2010, she was the Assistant News Director at Louisiana Network. Sue also worked as the education reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting and has contributed to various state publications as a freelance journalist. But she is perhaps best known as the voice of the popular politics Capitol Access.